The first step is creating the reef itself. Tons of fossil shells (oysters, clams, whelks) are delivered from quarries to the FGCU campus ready to be used as substrate (material for attachment) for oyster settlement. Although larval oysters will settle on most hard surfaces, they greatly prefer existing oysters and shell. This encourages oysters to form extensive reefs. The student and community volunteers shovel the shell into mesh bags. Hundreds of bags (each weighing 10-15 lbs.) are needed for each reef, so the work is long and hard. The reward at the end of the day is seeing a huge, random pile of shell being transformed into neatly stacked rows of bags ready to be placed in the estuary.
Once enough shell bags have been created, they are ready to be deployed. Placement of the bags at each site involves the coordinated efforts of hundreds of volunteers from the community, FGCU, local schools and local, state and federal agencies. These efforts begin at FGCU where students assist CWI personnel in loading and transporting the bagged shell to public and private boat launches.
Agency partners, community volunteers, and local tour operators donate use of their boats to help transport the bagged shell and other volunteers directly to each site.
Each reef construction day is an event and is a true example of community spirit and cooperation at work. The constructed reef can now serve as the foundation for a new living oyster reef.
Once at the site, all volunteers unload shell bags from the boats "bucket-brigade" style. At the end of each line, CWI staff arranges the bags in a pre-designed reef configuration. When the last bag is passed from volunteer to volunteer until its final placement, it's cause for great cheer! The reef construction is now complete!